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Saturday, October 24

Wairau report confirms need for RMA reforms

Minister for the Environment Nick Smith today released a report on the processing of TrustPower's application to operate a hydro-scheme on the Wairau River.

The report for the Ministry for the Environment was undertaken by aquatic ecologist Brent Cowie.

"The independent report highlights the difficulties for smaller councils like Marlborough District of processing major infrastructure consents such as TrustPower's hydro proposal on the Wairau River.

"This is not a criticism of the council; rather as a small local authority it would not be used to dealing with such large consents. A council such as Marlborough only gets a huge consent application like this once in a generation so inevitably it will not have the systems or expertise to be able to deal with it effectively.

"Key lessons from this review centre around whether splitting the decision making into an interim decision on the merits of the applications and a final decision on conditions is appropriate, and highlights the importance of the mix of skills and experience on hearing panels corresponding with the complexity of the issues involved.

"Future major applications of this sort will go to the new Environment Protection Authority established on 1 October as part of the Resource Management Act reforms. The new authority will specialise in major infrastructure consents and be better placed to avoid the pitfalls identified in this report.

"The Wairau hydro proposal has not been a positive experience for either the applicant or objectors. The Government wants to ensure a better process for future major consents and this report and its reforms will help achieve this."